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Humanities: Past, Present, and Future

Distinguished panel draws large crowd to a debate on the role of humanities in today's society
March 07, 2014

The English Department at Ryerson recently hosted “Humanities: Past, Present, and Future”, an illuminating panel on the Humanities in the Sears Atrium of George Vari Hall. The packed event saw speakers Dr. Marianne Hirsch, Dr. John Ralston Saul and Dr. Stephen Slemon discuss the much-debated future of the Humanities at Ryerson and abroad.

Dr. Hirsch, a previous president of the MLA association began the stimulating discussion with a call to claim the importance of the Humanities and to “reframe the conversation” that so often pervades discussions of the future of the Arts and Social Science fields. She declared that discourse on the Humanities needs to feature a “set of important transdisciplinary conversations” reflecting the relationships between fields in the Humanities and their collective importance.

Following Dr. Hirsch, Dr. Stephen Slemon gave a humourous and insightful speech declaring the need to “make trouble” in Humanities discourse. Dr. Slemon, President of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (with the aptly-named acronym ACCUTE), called for a transformation in the dominant narrative of the Humanities, calling those in the field to ensure that their voices are heard in order to provide hope for the social good that the Humanities provides.

Dr. John Ralson Saul, president of PEN International and distinguished visiting professor to Ryerson University, ended the speakers’ opening remarks with a rousing and impassioned speech declaring the Humanities to be more alive and more relevant than ever. He declared “call off the death notice for the Humanities!”, and reminded all in attendance that the roots of the Humanities lies in relevancy, not utilitarianism. His final call to radically redesign the pedagogical structures within the Humanities inspired standing ovations concluding the talk.

The highlight of the evening was the audience Q&A period, featuring a live Twitter stream of #HumantiesFuture and inspiring attendants to participate in the dialogue. Moderated by Dr. Irene Gammel, the period featured strong opinions, insightful questions and some genuine and genial anecdotes from visiting professors. Special thanks concluding the talk went out to Dr. Nima Naghibi and the Department of English for the creation and production of the panel.